Why was a Joint Parliamentary Committee not set up to probe the issues thrown up by the tehelka sting? There was just one reason -- the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government feared it would be in a minority on the JPC.
The National Democratic Alliance does not have the majority in the Rajya Sabha. This means it can nominate only five of the 15 members the Upper House would send to the 40-member JPC. Though the NDA has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, this is not large enough to offset the advantage the Opposition would have had by dint of its numbers in the proposed JPC.
At best, the NDA could have hoped for a 50-50 parity with the Opposition. Alternately, it would be in a minority by one or two MPs. Add to that, the fickle loyalties of certain NDA constituents. The Bharatiya Janata Party feared that, by the time the JPC got down to work, a couple of its members could turn against the government or hold it to ransom by threatening to make common cause with the Opposition unless their demands were met.
Either way, this was a gamble the government was not prepared to undertake. Hence, its decision to stonewall the Congress demand for a JPC.
A senior minister actually explained this to Congress leaders, including Madhavrao Scindia, during an informal meeting. This was before the stalemate in Parliament was broken under the aegis of Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi. Which is why Prime Minister Vajpayee's offer to consider 'all options' once the Budget was debated and passed was merely a ploy to help the Congress climb down from its 'no-JPC, no Parliament' stance.
Curiously, when the tehelka tapes first hit the headlines, a stunned government offered to consider all options, including a JPC, to defuse the crisis. At that time, the Congress rode the high moral ground and insisted it would settle for nothing less than the Vajpayee government's resignation. Indeed, in the first flush of tehelka, Sonia Gandhi loyalists let all and sundry know that their forming a government was now just a matter of days.
But when the tehelka effect began to wane, and the government laid bare the alleged misdeeds of Sonia Gandhi's personal assistant, Vincent George, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and Karnataka Congress chief V S Koujalagi, the Congress gave up its demand for Vajpayee's resignation and instead sought a JPC. By which time the government, which had recovered somewhat from the tehelka shock, hardened its stand and said no to a JPC. It said it was only ready for a discussion in Parliament, specifically in the Lok Sabha where it is in a majority.
WiLL he? Or WiLL he not?
Telecommunications Minister Ram Vilas Paswan is under attack from detractors -- both within and outside the ruling NDA -- for his alleged proximity to a leading industrial house.
Accusations are flying around about how he was changing the 1999 National Telecom Policy in order to bestow favours on the business group. The latest charge deals with Paswan's plans to allow basic telecom operators to start limited mobility phone services using the Wireless in Local Loop technology.
Congress Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi called Paswan's WiLL move a Rs 13,000 crore scam. When the matter briefly came up in the House, sparks flew. Amidst the din, Paswan told Dasmunshi, "I know at whose behest you are calling it a scam. But I will go ahead and grant the permission."
A few days later, this is exactly what the Group on Telecom and IT Convergence did.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
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